By Artem Chernamorian in Gyumri
Residents of two villages in Armenia’s northwestern Shirak region denounced on Wednesday the government-sanctioned dismantling of a nine-kilometer irrigation pipeline that used to deliver water to their arid lands.
The Shirak governor, Romik Manukian, wrote to Prime Minister Andranik Markarian on Tuesday, asking him to revise a December decision by the government in Yerevan to dig out and auction off the pipes connected to two nearby water pumping stations.
The government, acting at the behest of the State Committee on Water Resources, argued that the facility fell into disuse more than a decade ago due to high operating costs and could not be reactivated any time soon. The mains, made of expensive high-quality steel, were sold to an Armenian construction firm for just 180.9 million drams ($312,000) in late July. Its dismantled components are currently piled up at a railway station near the village of Bayandur to be transported elsewhere.
“As far as I know, they will end up in Iran,” said Grigor Grigorian, an official in the administration of the neighboring Yerazgavor village.
“We were supposed to get water through the pipeline,” said another villager. “Now they are dismantling the whole thing. Who cares about us?”
The Bayandur and Yerazgavor residents, most of them low-income farmers, succeeded in preventing the pipes’ removal two years ago and hope to do the same this time, saying that they have little chance of development without irrigation. “We are again fighting to keep them here,” said the Yerazgavor mayor, Artashes Mkhitarian.
The regional administration shares those concerns and says that the dismantled Soviet-era infrastructure could have been used in a more cost-effective way. The head of its agricultural department, Movses Manukian, told RFE/RL that the central government turned down one such plan suggested by the Shirak authorities. According to Mkhitarian, the United States Agency for International Development was ready to finance the project.
Adding to the local residents’ anger is the fact that the government began implementing its controversial decision only after this year’s presidential and parliamentary elections. Markarian personally pledged to improve the region’s battered irrigation network when he campaigned there in the run-up to the May legislative elections.